Let's start with The Israel Democracy Institute's conclusion: the "Israelization" process in haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) society in Israel proceeds apace, and it's haredi women who are responsible for that.
The Institute's annual report on haredim in Israel does show a complicated picture: on the one hand, the integration of haredi men into the workforce and academic institutions remains at a standstill, but on the other hand, per capita income in haredi families has increased substantially, and their standard of living has therefore risen, manifested in far more vacations in Israel and abroad, a considerable rise in car ownership, and so on.
Researchers Dr. Lee Cahaner and Dr. Gilad Malach state: "The processes of integration of Haredi households continue, evidenced both by employment and income levels of women and by partial adoption of middle-class lifestyle characteristics. The integration of haredi men, however, particularly as far as employment and academic studies are concerned, has come to a halt, apparently because of an absence of economic incentives."
The researchers refer to the renewed rise in state payouts to young kolel (institute of higher rabbinic learning) and yeshiva students. These allowances were cut during the period of the Netanyahu-Lapid government, but they have been raised again under the Netanyahu-haredi party government, which is still in office.
The researchers say that the consequence is a stagnant 51% rate of participation in the workforce among haredi men (which compares with 87% among non-haredi Jewish men) for three successive years up to 2018, after a substantial rise in the period 2013-2015. At the same time, the number of yeshiva and kolel students in Israel rose by 6% annually, 1.5 times the rate of growth of the haredi population.
Steep rise in income
All this has not, however, hindered the continued improvement in haredi society's standard of living. In 2017, average gross monthly income of haredi households grew by 10% to over NIS 15,000. This compares with a rise of just 5% for non-haredi households. A similar rate of increase was recorded for most of the preceding years. The result is, first of all, a substantial fall in the rate of poverty as measured by per capita income, from 52% in 2013 to 43% in 2017. This is still severe, but the trend of improvement is dramatic.
In this context it should be pointed out that according to a study by The Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, the poverty rate among haredim is much lower, among other things because of consumer behavior that is very different from that of the general population and a broad community support network.
One measure of the rise in the standard of living is car ownership. In the previous decade, only a third of haredi families owned a car. The study finds that by 2018, the number had risen to 44%. The proportion of haredim holding driving licenses has risen dramatically.
Another clear indicator of a rise in standard of living is vacations. The proportion of people in haredi society vacationing overseas rose from 12% in 2013-2014 to 17% in 2017-2018, representing an increase of nearly 50% in just four years. The explanation for the increase lies in the rise in income (alongside the Open Skies reform in Israeli aviation, which brought down the cost of vacations), but also in lifestyle changes. Today's haredi feels more comfortable with the idea of taking a vacation, part of a spreading culture of leisure in this population that is becoming more and more like that of Israelis at large, and what could be more Israeli than to want to travel on vacation abroad?
A woman of worth
And who is responsible for all these changes? There are several answers to that question, but the main one is the haredi woman. She manages, amazingly, to raise the highest number of children per family in the West (averaging more than six), to improve her own standard of education, to go out to work, and to earn steadily increasing income, thereby raising the standard of living of haredi society in general.
How does she do it? It all starts with education, a battered but true slogan. Most haredi girls receive their high-school education in religious seminaries. The proportion of female haredi pupils sitting bagrut (school matriculation) examinations rose from 31% in the 2008/9 school year to 51% in 2016/7. The proportion has steadily risen because of the demand to be able to go out to work and for study of core curriculum subjects and other vital lessons. According to Dr. Malach, preparation of girls for bagrut in haredi seminaries in order to meet this demand is a growing trend, and the seminaries that provide such preparation are the most popular.
From there, it's a short step to higher education. In the past decade, the number of haredim, men and women, studying for academic degrees has grown 2.5 times, and the annual growth rate averages 12.5%. In the 2018/19 academic year, there were some 12,000 haredi students in academic institutions in Israel, 70% of them (8,400) women. The rate of growth among men, however, has slowed. In the past two years, it has been 9%, while the growth rate among haredi women has been 12%.
Growing Internet use
What of those important tools for the modern labor market, computers and the Internet? The bans and restrictions imposed by haredi rabbis on using the Internet have not stopped the trend. If a decade ago, 28% of adult haredim reported that they used the Internet, by 2018 that proportion had grown to half the haredi population, almost doubling. It's impossible to exaggerate the significance of this figure and its consequences for haredi society, which through the Internet is becoming more exposed and more connected to Israeli society in general.
The modernization of haredi society continues, and what is interesting is that haredi society itself is aware of the process, Dr. Malach told "Globes". He attributes the rise in the standard of living chiefly to the rise in earned income among haredi women, but also to greater state support, and to negative income tax for people on low incomes. The haredi integration process continues, but haredi men still lag behind, not least because of the obstacles placed in their way by haredi politicians, in the form of greater state support and the incentives for those who do not work.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 24, 2019
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